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Industrial design student Troy Yoshimoto with professor Dave Teubner

Left, student Troy Yoshimoto demonstrates his Articulating Cube project. It starts out as a cube and then mechanically
transforms into something else. Right, Prof. Dave Teubner shoots video of his presentation.

Style and Substance

Parents of college students usually understand what degree their child is working toward. Yet that’s not often the case for an industrial design major.

“Most people know what graphic design is and most people understand what interior design is. So, what is industrial design?” said David Teubner, a professor and alumnus in CSULB’s industrial design (ID) program, part of the university’s Design Department.

It’s not what you may think. “Even as far back as when I was young, people would say, ‘Oh, an industrial designer. So, you design factories?” Teubner recalled.

Actually, industrial design combines art, science and business into developing concepts and specifications that enhance the function, value and appearance of products and systems that benefit both users and manufacturers. The ultimate goals are solving issues of form, usability and ergonomics along with developing marketing and branding plans.

The creativity of an industrial designer differs from that of other artists and even other designers, and CSULB’s program provides students with opportunities often unavailable elsewhere.

“Our industrial design program is characterized by having a very steep learning curve over the course of five years,” said José Rivera-Chang, another ID professor and acting Design Department chair. “Unlike other schools, we do not have a design portfolio requirement for admission—we do not require our freshmen to have previous design experience at all.

“The first three years of studies are critical because our students must quickly learn basic design skills to help them prepare that first design portfolio they need to continue into their junior and senior year,” he continued. “Only students that have developed all the necessary competencies in their portfolios will continue in the program. Once they pass this milestone, students are prepared to work in a ‘design studio’ environment for the next two years,” where they have opportunities to work with clients and other professionals in the field.

The Design Department faculty have extensive professional experience and often continue as consultants or have their own design firms. As design trends change, teaching methods are keeping up, too, Rivera-Chang said. “Currently there is more emphasis on collaboration between industrial design and other disciplines such as engineering, marketing and business.”

“What makes our program unique is this thing called ‘design thinking,’” Teubner explained. “Design thinking is something you can apply to almost anything, and it’s this ability to think creatively or ‘outside the box’ in a way that allows you to be innovative and find solutions and see things in ways most people can’t see.”

Sketches of food mixer designs by Gregory Vanderpol (top) and Samuel Wu.

Sketches of food mixer designs by Gregory Vanderpol (top) and Samuel Wu.

Alix Armour's pine scales cocktail table

Alix Armour designed the Pine Scales cocktail table.

It’s a different way of thinking, and Teubner said he sometimes has to have his students “un-learn” what they’ve learned in the past. He noted that in English and math, there are right and wrong ways of doing things, but, “In industrial design, I have to teach my students that there is no one right answer. There are many possibilities, and we have to find all of the possibilities because we don’t know which possibility is going to be the best.”

Mathematics is considered linear thinking, but industrial designers think laterally, going off in many different directions. “You make connections from all sorts of weird things. I call them monkey wrenches. So, we throw a monkey wrench in our students’ work here and there.”

For example, he tells a class that he has a warehouse full of two things—Velcro and salami—and the students must come up with different ideas for what to do with these two unrelated items.

“That’s the kind of weird connections we’re famous for. That’s thinking outside the box,” he explained. “Most people would never think about putting those two things together, but I guarantee you that if I have a group of my students working on it, then we will have all sorts of cool ideas within about 15 minutes, and you will go, ‘I didn’t know you could do that with Velcro and salami.’”

CSULB ranked No. 14 in 2010 in the publication of the Design Futures Council, Design Intelligence: America’s Best Architecture and Design Schools. Teubner pointed out that of the top 14, five were industrial design programs offered by public universities. “So, I guess you could say we have the No. 5 public program in the nation,” he said.

The program’s recognition appears to be deserved, judging from the success of its students in various competitions. Recent graduate Matthew Schwartz turned his senior project into an all-expense-paid trip to London in September for Electrolux’ Design Lab 2011 with his concept of the Onda Portable Microwave.

Electrolux received more than 1,300 entries from over 50 nations, whittling down to eight finalists including Schwartz, who received the People’s Choice Award for his small device powered by paper batteries that transmits microwaves directly into specially designed food packages. Competition judges praised his concept for its lateral thinking and creativity.

In February, student Alix Armour won the American Society of Furniture Designers’ 2011 Student Design Competition. Students created a production-friendly cocktail table for the Phillips Collection, and the firm helped Armour produce a prototype of her design that was featured at the High Point Spring Market. She’s now working as a product designer for CG Mobile in Paris.

Also in February, three industrial design majors were named finalists in the Planning and Visual Education (PAVE) Partnership’s 2010-11 PAVE the Way 3D Design Challenge. Students created prototypes of pet accessories and care products that were displayed at the GlobalShop 2011 trade show in Las Vegas. Sung Scott Truong was selected for his Better Betta fish display, and Gregory Vanderpol and Catherine Morse were chosen for their Hermés Talaris saddle display.

The success of the program can be found in the success of its alumni. Ernesto Quinteros is a principal designer with the computer accessories firm Belkin, while Myk Lum is principal of LDA, a design consultancy in Orange County. Alums also design medical equipment, soft goods, athletic shoes and toys among other products, and a number of well-known furniture designers got their start at CSULB.

Other alums include renowned film visual effects designers such as John Dykstra, Joe Johnston, Steve Gawley and Lorne Peterson.

“Cal State Long Beach industrial design has a big influence and its alumni are all over the country,” Teubner said. “In fact, now they are all over the world. We’re going strong and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.”